A new study shows that early treatment of wet macular degeneration (also called neovascular age-related macular degeneration, or nAMD) may help people retain their sight for longer. It is less common than dry age-related macular degeneration, but more severe. About 11 million people in the United States have some form of macular degeneration; 10% have this more severe form.

Researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany found that persons with nAMD who were treated with vascular endothelial growth factor inhibitors (proteins that slow down or stop blood vessel formation) kept their vision longer, compared to untreated patients. However, the researchers also found that at least 80% of patients would stop treatment over time.

Neovascular age-related macular degeneration

Neovascular age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss among adults aged 60 years and older in high-income countries. The condition affects the central part of the eye's retina, called the macula. Some people with nAMD may not recognize the initial symptoms, which then could progress to the severe form. The symptoms are caused by new, abnormal blood vessels growing under the macula. They include:

  • Distorted vision
  • Reduced vision in the center of the eye only
  • Blurry spots in your line of vision
  • Color brightness and intensity lose their sharpness
  • Hazy vision

The study

The German-based study included 3,192 persons with nAMD in Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland, who made a total of 67,000 visits for treatment. The researchers wanted to know how well the participants could see with both eyes and compared them to untreated patients. The paper was published in JAMA Network Ophthalmology.

About 12% of the study sample kept visual acuity that was good enough to allow them to continue driving, and around 15% kept good reading vision in at least one eye, for their average remaining lifetime – about 11 years. Patients who received treatment earlier in the course of disease, who were younger and had more injections within the first year of treatment were linked to better outcomes. But approximately 82% of the participants dropped out of treatment. Prior studies have shown people drop out from their treatments for various reasons, including lack of transportation to the ophthalmologist's office and lack of faith that the treatments will help.

The treatment was related to preserving vision in nearly 20% of patients over the average remaining lifetime. The patients who dropped out might have had worsening vision beforehand, researchers wrote. About 80% of untreated nAMD patients might be at risk of legal blindness within three years of disease onset.

The take away

Neovascular age-related macular degeneration may lead to irreversible blindness. People who notice changes in their vision should consult their doctor. The earlier the problem is diagnosed, the better the chance of preserving some vision.